Fit For A Queen: Buckingham Palace’s Royal Gifts Exhibition

Queen Elizabeth IIBuckingham Palace is throwing open its doors once more, giving visitors the chance to explore its magnificent State Rooms. While the Queen normally uses the rooms to receive, reward and entertain visitors such as dignitaries, each summer the public is invited to visit this temporary exhibition.

Previous summers have seen the rooms display The Queen’s Coronation in 2013, A Royal Welcome in 2015 and the Queen’s gowns in Fashioning a Reign in 2016, which marked the monarch’s 90th birthday year. This year, the Royal Gifts exhibition displays presents given to the Queen. 

While perishable items are often used or given to charity, the non-perishable items that are not donated to charity are stored according to curatorial advice or placed on long-term loan to cultural institutions.

The rest become part of the Royal Collection, and are displayed in 15 royal residences and former residences across the UK, most of which are open to the public. However, Royal Gifts will be the first dedicated display of the Queen’s gift collection.

Curating The Exhibition 
The exhibition’s curator, Sally Goodsir, says: ‘A small number of official gifts have been on display at Buckingham Palace during the 24 years it has been open to the public, but never on this scale. More than 250 objects from over 100 countries will be on display to explore Her Majesty’s roles as Head of State, Head of the Commonwealth and Head of Nation. The exhibition will include gifts given during State visits, overseas tours and official engagements and those presented to mark significant moments in the Queen’s life.

The objects displayed will showcase fine craftsmanship from countries the Queen has visited or received visitors from. As Her Majesty is the longest-reigning British monarch and the most travelled sovereign in British history, undertaking more than 250 overseas visits during her 65-year rule, one of the challenges was deciding which gifts to include. Gifts from as wide a range of countries as possible have been selected, as well as those which reflect local crafts and design such as glass from Scandinavia, carvings from central Africa, plus Aborigine and Maori objects and works of art from Australia and New Zealand.’

International Gifts 
Highlights include a colourful beaded Yoruba throne, which was donated by Nigeria in 1956. Beadwork and royalty are closely associated in Yoruba culture, and large quantities of beads are considered a sign of wealth and status. The throne’s interlaced motifs hold spiritual meaning, including respect for ancestors.

You can also see a model of the ship sailed by the 15th-century Chinese navigator and diplomat Zeng He, donated by the Chinese President Xi Jinping during a State visit to Buckingham Palace in 2015. The Vessel of Friendship is decorated with a dove, an olive branch medallion and Chinese symbols of friendship and peace.

President Kenneth Kaunda gave the Queen a hand-beaten bowl of silver fruit on behalf of the Government and people of Zambia during the Queen’s visit to Namibia and Zimbabwe for a Commonwealth Head of Government meeting in 1991. The silver banana, pear, apple, orange, tangerine, plum, pawpaw, cherries and grapes are fruits grown in Zambia.

Silver, thrones and ships might be obvious choices for a monarch – but Queen Sālote Tupou III of Tonga fancied being different, and surprised the Queen with a pair of baskets woven from coconut leaves during her seven-month Commonwealth Tour with the Duke of Edinburgh in 1953. The baskets were symbolic of the island’s re-established creative industry. But the Kwakiutl people from Canada’s northwest coast topped Queen Sālote’s gift by donating a 78cm-tall carved wooden totem pole decorated with the outstretched wings of a mythical thunderbird.

The Queen also receives gifts on her birthday and anniversaries. Salt Island, one of the British Virgin Islands, presented her with a linen bag
of salt in 2016 for her 90th birthday. The present reflected the tradition of paying the monarch an annual rent of a pound of salt on their birthday.

Every year the Queen has more than 100 private meetings, known as audiences, with leading public figures such as new ambassadors and high commissioners, who often give a gift that represents their nation. The ambassador of the Republic of Macedonia, Jovan Donev, gave a terracotta figure of The Great Mother in 2013, which is a replica of a figure discovered in a Neolithic settlement in the north of Macedonia, which is also on display.

Closer To Home
The exhibition displays more than 100 items that the Queen has been given on her travels around the UK, too. So look out for a gilded bronze owl, a replica of the owls John Thorp designed for the plinths outside Leeds Civic Hall, which were inspired by the City of Leeds’ coat of arms. Staff at Aldgate East Tube station gave the Queen a Buckingham Palace London Underground sign on her visit to the station in 2010.

Goodsir adds: ‘The selection of gifts from the UK reflects the breadth of engagements undertaken, as well as demonstrating British craftsmanship and skills in areas such as ceramics, woodwork, silversmithing and textiles.’

But one question remains: just how many pairs of socks has the Queen been given, and are they in the exhibition? You’ll have to visit to find out! From 22 Jul. Buckingham Palace, SW1A 1AA. T: 030-3123 7300.

Royal Palaces 
Windsor Castle
Windsor Castle has been the family home of British kings and queens for almost 1,000 years, making it the oldest and largest inhabited castle in the world. While it is one of the Queen’s official residences – she spends most of her private weekends here – it is also still used for ceremonial and State occasions. Highlights include the elaborate Semi-State Rooms, the gothic St George’s Chapel – the resting place of King Henry VIII and Charles I – and the Changing the Guard ceremony.

Clarence House
As the official London residence of the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall, this is where the couple meet guests at seminars, lunches, receptions and dinners. A guided tour begins in the garden, then moves around five rooms on the ground floor, including the library, dining room and garden room. As well as porcelain and silver, you will see 20th-century paintings by Graham Sutherland. Please note that Clarence House is only open during August.

Kensington Palace  
The former home of William III and Mary II, and more recently Princess Diana, Kensington Palace dates from 1605. Located in Kensington Gardens, it is one of the more accessible royal palaces. A visit gives you the chance to see the grand King’s and Queen’s State Apartments. You can also admire Diana’s gowns in the temporary exhibition, Diana: Her Fashion Story, as well as visit the stunning White Garden, which blooms with English white roses that are inspired by the princess. 


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